The opening ceremony of the London Games began with Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins walking onto the stage and ringing a large bell, and releasing a yellow balloon into the skies above the capital.
There then followed a spectacular and wonderfully theatrical display. It was a showcase of some of the best of British, from its past industrial achievements to its renowned place in rock’n’roll history.
Following a reprise of Jerusalem, actor Kenneth Branagh appeared as Isambard Kingdom Brunel to usher in the "dark satanic mills" flipside to the opening "green and pleasant" land.
Actors portrayed workers forging huge steel rings that were hoisted above the stadium forming the Olympic rings which blazed above those below. There then followed a celebration of Britain’s National Health Service with a special tribute to Great Ormond Street children’s hospital.
This was a theatrical performance on an epic scale. Dozens of girls and boys took part in the display, sat in bed that were attended to by dancing nurses. The storytelling continued to children’s literature with a varied selection of characters taking to the arena.
After an introduction from J.M.Barrie's Peter Pan read by J.K.Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, there followed a stream of characters from her book as well as many others from famous tales. The child catcher from Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang pirouetted about the stage before dozens of Mary Poppins descended from the sky.
A film shown to the audience brought some surprises as James Bond actor Daniel Craig and the Queen were seen clambering aboard a helicopter, leaving behind her corgis Monty, Willow and Holly.
As the film showed the helicopter arrive over the stadium the Queen and James Bond were seen to jump by parachute. Soon after the Queen emerged and sat amongst other dignitaries as though she had just disposed of her parachute. Of course it was all an illusion but one that wowed the audience.
After an introduction for President of the International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge and Her Majesty, the ceremony continued with a celebration of British popular music as dancers gyrated across the vast space inside the Olympic stadium, referred to by Chinese state media somewhat disparagingly as the soup bowl.
The musical soup was a varied mix of ingredients. Sounds of the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties were all represented. Clips of The Beatles, the Kinks and Rolling Stones flowed through to seventies punk represented by the Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant complete with bizarre pogoing acrobats.
The electronic sounds of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark rang out with Enola Gay as the musical medley entered the eighties and with the advent of dance and rave, New Order’s Blue Monday changed the mood along with Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Back to Life by Soul II Soul. British rapper Dizzee Rascal sang his hit song 'Bonkers' bringing the musical interlude to a close as a house rouse into the air revealing Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who typed a message projected around the stadium - “This is for everyone”.
Then followed the long procession of athletes from all 205 nations taking part in the Olympic Games. Keeping with tradition Greece led followed by the other participating countries in alphabetical order and end ending with the host country. As Team GB headed out David Bowie’s Heroes rang out across the stadium amidst cheers from a wildly enthusiastic crowd of spectators [BBC].
As well as their respective national flags each team also carried a copper petal. The reason was not immediately obvious and was not revealed until the very end of the ceremony as the flame was delivered to the stadium.
The Olympic flame which had earlier been taken to City Hall on the royal barge Gloriana, made its final journey to the stadium on a speedboat. Leaving at around 20:45 GMT the boat was piloted by David Beckham as Team GB footballer Jade Bailey stood at the front holding the torch [BBC - video].
Taking the flame from the boat was rowing champion Sir Steve Redgrave who handed the responsibility of lighting the cauldron to seven young athletes, Callum Airlie, Jordan Duckitt, Desiree Henry, Katie Kirk, Cameron MacRitchie, Aidan Reynolds and Adelle Tracey [PA].
It was only now that the audience learned the importance of the copper petals, each of which had been placed at the end of a pole, and each becoming a torch in itself. After lighting the array ascended and became one united flame.
There then followed the briefest of fireworks displays and a performance by Paul McCartney of Hey Jude. There had been some dramatic moments throughout, and most critics praised Danny Boyle's interpretation of British history and culture.
The Telegraph described it as “ironic, complex & beautiful” while the Guardian portrayed it as “madcap, surreal & moving”. Indeed it had all these aspects. There was irony given that Britain’s industrial base was once great but has been somewhat overtaken by foreign competitors.
There were most definitely surreal, madcap and perhaps even frighten visions depicted with the characters coming from children’s novels took to the stage. The bouncing punks were particularly surreal, and there was a sense of irony given the rage that the Sex Pistols caused back in the mid-seventies. Now they had become an acceptable face of popular music.
There were elements of mirth and humour as Mr Bean played the keyboards during a rendition of Chariots of Fire, a film which itself celebrated sporting achievement. There were also amusing moments during the grand parade of athletes as they walked around the stadium. As the Czech Republic stepped out they were wearing Wellington boots, perhaps concerned that they might have been knee deep in water given the deluge of rain Britain has been experiencing of late [Examiner].
Commentators could not avoid the odd joke or politics either. When Libya’s term emerged there was mention of the continuing turmoil in the country. There was also the mention of Taiwan’s alternative name Formosa which the BBC commentator informed viewers was the Portuguese for "beautiful".
Taiwan’s participation in the games has already created a rift with China, who see the island as being a part of its territory. Taiwan expressed anger this week after Olympics organisers admitted the island's national flag had been taken down from a London display at the request of the Chinese embassy. The flag was removed from a row hanging over Regent Street, one of London's busiest shopping areas, and replaced on Wednesday with that of Taiwan's Olympic committee [Channel News Asia].
Anger & controversy
Angry at the decision one woman posed almost naked but for a small Taiwan flag draped around her waist [Taipei Times]. "I am really angry that our flag was removed so I took this photo," Huang Shih-ting said. Under the rules, Taiwan competes in the Olympics under the name “Chinese Taipei” and is represented by the Chinese Taipei Olympic flag in Olympic venues.
However many Taiwan citizens are angry that they cannot express their own identity. Lo Shu-lei, a lawmaker of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party, said: "China should not suppress Taiwan if it wants to peacefully co-exist with Taiwan. This will only make Taiwanese people angry." [Evening Standard / Taipei Times]
Politics and faux pas are never far away and there were questions raised before the games even began. A mistake saw the South Korean flag displayed instead of that belonging to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK], also known as North Korea. It has led to an inquiry by the International Olympic Committee as well as displays of anger and protests by the North Korean team [Evening Standard / Guardian].
Joy & disappointment
Despite the issues of controversy, the Opening ceremony brought joy and excitement for the crowd of some 80,000 who packed the Olympic stadium and the millions around the world who watched online or on domestic television channels.
Some were left a little disappointed however. Brazilians who gathered in Rio de Janeiro where the next Olympics will be held were left watching blank screens. Many fans were said to be both disappointed and angry, as well as questioning Brazil’s ability to successfully deliver the 2016 Games [Sky News].
tvnewswatch, London, UK